Martin Kline's work is visually stunning. It's nearly vibrates off the walls with color, energy and texture. For a gal such as myself, who feels the need to touch art in order to truly experience it, strolling through a gallery of Kline's work was an exercise in restraint.
The Martin Kline exhibition, “Romantic Nature,” is on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art through June 17; this little gem of a museum is showing approximately 75 of Kline’s works. This first major retrospective of the artist exhibits large, luscious panels of encaustic paintings, pen-and-ink drawings and sculptures which not only reflect his humor and love of nature but also give a nod to Greek mythology, American baseball, Ed Ruscha and Jackson Pollock.
In an early morning private tour of the museum, Director Douglas Hyland provides me with a bit of history. Founded in 1903, The New Britain Museum of American art was
the first institution in the country to collect and exhibit American Art. They presently hold over 5,000 works by names such as Sol LeWitt and Dale Chihuly, and the collection spans American art history dating back to colonial art holdings. The main building of the museum, the Chase Family Building, a 43,000-square- foot building with 10 new galleries, opened in April 2006. It is new, gleaming and state-of-the-art.
“Erected by the people for the use of the people,” the New Britain Museum of American Art is dedicated to serving all people by pursuing excellence in art through collections, exhibitions and education. Ascending the stairs to the second floor gallery, the visitor is dazzled by the first display of Kline’s work, “Great Silver Falls,” 2007, encaustic on panel, 96” x 48” x 6”. It is a gleaming, sensual piece that describes not only the falling nature of a waterfall but also speaks to the nature of the process of encaustic painting. Mercury- colored silver streams flow over the painted panel, building one upon the other, to create a piece of stunning sculptural beauty.
The bulk of Kline’s works are created with encaustic, or pigmented wax. In this process, the wax is liquified by heat and then applied in strokes and daubs layering one upon the other, allowing layers underneath to build up while still remaining visible. The result is a highly texturized work of color and form. Kline gives life to
these works by making them seem to take on the living properties of nature. They appear to move with their own life as presented with the artist’s vision in swirls, grids and patterns.
“You can appreciate these works from their purely aesthetic view but also in the encaustic process,” Hyland explained. “Kline develops this obsession with nature, but then the work has such a variety of texture that is endlessly inventive.” Indeed, the work “Cosmos,” 2000, encaustic on panel, 49” x 49” x 2.75”, seems to begin, or maybe ends, with the slightest grains of encaustic building to a crescendo of light, shadow and color in the center of the work. Housed in the simplest of wooden frames, the piece moves through space and time, straining to be released from its wooden confines.